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Brief Update

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Carnation, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent
Image (c) Barnaby Thieme

Howdy folks,

Sorry I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like in the past few weeks. I have a couple pieces in the works, but I’ve been awfully busy with my day job.

I’m currently thinking about writing an overview of tantra, something on entheogens and religious experience, a piece on the trickster figure, and another piece on the psychology of religion. I’m sure I’ll get to them all soon!

If there’s a topic you’d be interested in hearing about, please let me know in the comments section! Always wanted to know what’s up with Zen koans, or how the Greeks really practiced religion, or something else? Let me know about it!

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and have just finished a couple of truly outstanding books, and I’ve reviewed them on the Goodreads site. They are Birth of the Young God, Hank Heifetz’s translation of the first eight cantos of Kalidasa’s magnificent poem about Shiva and Paravati; Geoffrey Samuel’s The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, a wonderful social history of two complex religious movements; The Cult of the Saint by Peter Brown; and Peter Gay’s Weimar Culture.

Two books I didn’t find so thrilling were Walter Burkert’s The Orientalizing Revolution, about the influence of Mesopotamia and Egypt on Archaic Greek culture, and Michael Angold’s spotty history Byzantium.

More soon….


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September 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

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Astonishing Resource for Orientalists – Link of the Day

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Anyone interested in the history of the Ancient Near East should run-not-walk to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, where, I have just learned, a number of impressive catalogs from various curated exhibitions are available for free download in PDF format.

I started out with Visible Language; Invention of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond, and I can see this resource is going to keep me busy for some time!

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July 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm

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Khan Academy

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The Khan Academy is a growing non-profit organization featuring a large collection of short instructional videos on a number of interesting topics. Their current emphasis is on science, math, and economics, but they do have some videos on topics in the humanities, and their Art History collection is particularly good. Here’s a sample video on the Babylonian Ishtar Gate on display in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

I’ve been hearing about the Khan Academy from a couple of different vectors, in part because I see a growing interest in advanced or continuing education for adults outside of the academy. As I continue to contemplate a possible return to graduate school and weigh the downsides, I can certainly understand why. The Chronicle of Higher Education just published an article, for example, about a woman with a PhD in Medieval history who can’t make ends meet as an adjunct professor, and has turned to food stamps. Apparently, she’s not alone.

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May 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm

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New Blog: Mesoscope

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Howdy y’all. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve started up a new blog on politics and current events called Mesoscope. I don’t plan to do much cross-posting as it’s quite a different subject and tone from what I’m doing here, but some of you may be interested.

I’ve been thinking about starting something like this for some time, and was pushed over the fence by news this morning from Seymour Hersh that the US government has been training and supporting a designated Iranian terrorist group that has been linked to a spate of political murders in Iran in recent years. So there you have it! Welcome to Crazytown.

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April 7, 2012 at 8:34 pm

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Links Roundup: Google Art Project Edition

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I’m goggle-boxed by the Google Art Project, which offers in-depth looks at dozens of galleries from around the world. The site is executed with the technical excellence and the vast scale that you would expect from the company that brought you Google Maps.

Anyone interested in art, history, or archaeology should run, not walk, to the site at your first opportunity.

After you’ve checked out the Uffizi in Florence or the MoMA in New York, you might browse more esoteric fare, like the Munch Museum in Oslo, or the Museum of Cycladic Art.

One conspicuous absence is the Louvre, but happily, they have their own website.

With this new development, I’m willing to overlook the Gmail redesign scandal, and even Google+.

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April 3, 2012 at 10:16 am

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Links Roundup: Beautiful Skies, Reburied Artifacts, and the End of the World

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The Guardian UK presents its ten favorite depictions of skies in paintings.

Early Christianity Elaine Pagels has a new book out on the Book of Revelation, which she reads in the context of extra-canonical accounts of the end-times. I’m ambivalent about her writing, which usually present an apologetic and sanitized form of Gnosticism, stripping the movement of the grotesqueries which are often its most interesting features. Her book The Gnostic Gospels, for example, completely lacks discussion of the Demiurge, Archon, or Ialdabaoth.

The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from her new book:

Biblical archaeologists working in Jerusalem have uncovered what they believe to be an extremely early first century Christian tomb, on the basis of what I find to be tenuous evidence. Their work is linked to the interesting Jesus tomb controversy. Their field report (PDF) is worth scanning in part because of its fascinating descriptions of the problems of conducting field work in Jerusalem. Their work was disrupted by “ultra-orthodox” protesters several times, who on one occasion drove the archaeologists from the site and replaced artifacts back in the tombs.

Speaking of re-burying artifacts….

A host of artifacts were uncovered recently in the Greek city of Thessaloniki during subway construction, including an early Christian basilica. In a sign of the times, archaeologists are forced to discontinue excavation due to a lack of funds, and are reburying material to entrust them to future generations.

This LED puts out more power than it consumes. Balderdash! you say? Nay! This little fellow is Second-Law-of-Thermodynamics-compliant – it absorbs heat from its environment.

Finally, the Village Voice has written a damning article on the NYPD’s malignant attempts to destroy a whistleblower from their ranks, who presented evidence that officers in his precinct were routinely ordered to ignore serious crimes in an attempt to “massage the statistics.” When he came forward, the NYPD went after him, going so far as to have him committed to a psychiatric hospital for six days.

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March 14, 2012 at 7:47 am

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Links Roundup: Mostly Multi-Media Edition

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Dancing Girl, Paul Klee, 1940
Image (c) Barnaby Thieme

I’ve got some really terrific stuff for you on this week’s link roundup. Are you excited?!? I am.

First off, I’m thrilled to have learned about the stupendous blog 5:4, which covers new classical music. Its proprietor Simon Cummings is himself a composer. The site hosts loads of free downloads by some favorites of mine (Thomas Adès, Steve Reich, Conlon Nancarrow) and some brand new favorites. I am over the moon for Julieta Szewach’s Dikyrion and Unsuk Chin’s violin concerto (Total Immersion). Really terrific stuff.

I think you should probably watch this short excerpt of Francis Alÿs’s Nightwatch, which features a fox on the loose in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

As long as we’re all multi-media, you might be interested to know that the San Francisco Symphony has a podcast.

You can download some wonderful radio plays by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre here. The War of the Worlds really is terrific, but so far my favorite is the short “Life with Father,” which surprisingly outshines the “Heart of Darkness” adaptation it’s paired with.

Here is a handy webpage that makes it extremely easy to request any files that various intelligence agencies may be keeping on you — NSA, FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and a couple of other ones. I submitted a bunch of requests today out of curiosity, and will let you know if they have anything on yours truly.

My friend Hugh Behm-Steinberg over at Eleven Eleven sent me a link to this excerpt (chapter 12) from a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Gavin Flood and Charles Martin.

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March 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

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New on Mesocosm: Links Roundup and Poetry Fridays

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Cupid and Psyche, Roman, c. 2nd Century CE
Altes Museum, Berlin

Hello, Mesocosm readers! I’m going to be trying out two new regular features – a periodic links roundup, and poetry Fridays.

Link Roundup

Some exciting news in paleobotany this week! First, a report that Russian scientists successfully grew flowers from 30,000-year-old fruit. A few days later, I read of a joint expedition in northern China excavating a Pompeii-like buried forest that is a staggering 300 million years old.

An international archaeological expedition is working in the Sumerian city of Ur, I am excited to report, and they have discovered a new temple dating back to around 2500 BCE.

The great songster Leonard Cohen has a new album out, and Cohen-biographer Liel Leibovitz has a story for the ages in this Tablet article.

From Bruce Schneier, I learned of this interesting post about a letter the famed game theorist John Nash wrote to the NSA in 1955. His musings appear to anticipate much of mainstream cryptography by decades.

National Geographic has an excellent article in their February issue about a beautiful charcoal and ink drawing that may well be a previously-unknown Leonardo da Vinci. The article is online here.

Finally, I was deeply saddened to learn that Arikamedu, an important historical site in India, has been recently devastated by a cyclone. First excavated by the great British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler in the 1940s, Arikamedu was a Roman trading post in Tamil Nadu in southern India, established in the first century CE. The site had recently been ravaged by the 2004 tsunami.

Poetry Friday

On Poetry Friday I’m going to refer readers to poems that I enjoy on my Twitter Account – you can click the Follow button on the right of this page if you like.

We started two weeks ago with an snippet from the great Indian poet Kalidasa, and last week I referred readers to a lesser-known poem by E. E. Cummings, enter no (silence is the blood whose flesh.

(Yes, I said “E. E. Cummings,” which is how he more frequently signed his own name).

This week I would like call attention to the magnificent poem The Book of Thell, a (relatively) short work by William Blake. In this excerpt, the young maid Thell contemplates transience:

“O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water?
Why fade these children of the spring, born but to smile & fall?
Ah! Thel is like a watry bow, and like a parting cloud,
Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water,
Like dreams of infants, like a smile upon an infant’s face,
Like the dove’s voice, like transient day, like music in the air.
Ah! gentle may I lay me down, and gentle rest my head,
And gentle sleep the sleep of death, and gentle hear the voice
Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time.”

The Lily of the valley, breathing in the humble grass
Answer’d the lovely maid and said: “I am a watry weed,
And I am very small, and love to dwell in lowly vales;
So weak, the gilded butterfly scarce perches on my head;
Yet I am visited from heaven, and he that smiles on all
Walks in the valley and each morn over me spreads his hand,
Saying: ‘Rejoice, thou humble grass, thou new-born lily flower,
Thou gentle maid of silent valleys and of modest brooks;
For thou shalt be clothed in light, and fed with morning manna,
Till summer’s heat melts thee beside the fountains and the springs
To flourish in eternal vales.’ Then why should Thel complain?”

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February 24, 2012 at 9:24 am

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Fractal Cat came from the ASPCA, which would appreciate your help.

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February 1, 2012 at 8:23 am

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The State Oracles of Tibet – a free documentary

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This outstanding documentary on the oracles of Tibet deserves comparison with Maya Deren’s classic Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.

The film is served by YouTube’s UFO channel, which presents in a pretty far-out style, but don’t let that throw you. It stays on solid ground, reporting accurately and matter-of-factly about Tibetan beliefs.

Thanks to Erik Davis of Techgnosis for the tip.

Also recommended (for the seriously interested) is Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s classic Oracles and Demons of Tibet, available from the excellent Fields Online Book Store.

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January 11, 2012 at 10:14 am

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